Tenacity. Leadership. Inclusion. Unity. Those are the four pillars behind a newly formed group at Westwood’s Thurston Middle School called “Community Builders.” According to school administrators, there is a real need to build a sense of community among middle school students.
“We pulled together rising seventh- and eighth-grade students from four existing clubs – Peer Leaders, GSA, Tenacity Challenge and Unity Group,” said Humanities Department Chair Katherine Stewart. “Each of these clubs has a mission that focuses on building a welcoming community, being inclusive, taking a leadership role in the building and having a positive impact in their school.”
In addition to Stewart, the club will be advised by Assistant Principal Nicole Haberman and Director of Equity, Integration, and Community Partnerships & METCO Director Lateefah Franck.
“We came together to figure out how to respond to some of the conflicts and social media incidents that came up throughout the year, and to really think about what is going on,” said Franck. “We wanted to increase accountability within the student body, in hopes that students see themselves as connected.”
Forty students were members of the clubs selected to be the founding members of Community Builders. Recently they participated in a retreat at Hale Education in Westwood to discuss ways to best build a positive community within their school.
“The goal of the retreat was to explain to students why we were bringing them together,” said Haberman. “We did team building activities around all the Thurston core values and asked them to identify what were some things that happened this year that challenged those values. We asked them to determine how to make our values visible to each other.”
Franck says middle school students are often overlooked when it comes to building community in their schools. “Elementary schools are based on community that comes from adults, and when they get to high school there are many opportunities to forge community on their own. Our goal is to establish a positive culture that is student-led or co-led and we’re doing that by bringing together different bodies that have a stake and bid in our culture.”
Students will do more than react to conflicts. They will be called upon to take a role in orientation programming for incoming sixth graders and Boston students coming to Westwood through the METCO program.
“Empowering students and letting them know that they do have a voice and that voice is honored and respected is at the core of this group,” said Haberman. “In addition to doing some preemptive work through activities and events, we want to have a group of students we can go to when things arise. Faculty and staff can work with students in Community Builders as a sounding board to gauge where our student community stands on issues, and they can also help us facilitate our school response to challenging situations.”
Strengthening bonds between students who don’t normally cross paths is also at the heart of this club and what they hope to accomplish. “At the end of the retreat, one student said, ‘I wish everyone in our school could have deep conversations like this with peers we don’t usually speak with,’” recounted Franck, who sees this as a powerful force for students who have been disconnected from school and one another.